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1. Review of At Home in Her Tomb

liu perkins at home in her tomb Review of At Home in Her TombAt Home in Her Tomb: Lady Dai and the Ancient Chinese Treasures of Mawangdui
by Christine Liu-Perkins; 
illus. by Sarah S. Brannen
Intermediate, Middle School    Charlesbridge    80 pp.
4/14    978-1-58089-370-1    $19.95
e-book ed.  978-1-60734-615-9    $9.99

Late in 1971, workers digging an air-raid shelter in Hunan Province found three tombs of a noble family from early in the Han dynasty. The oldest tomb, 
of the Marquis of Dai (d. 186 BCE), was plundered long ago. His son’s 
(d. 168 BCE) retained important artifacts, though it had been damaged during construction of the third tomb, which was virtually intact and of enormous archaeological significance. Here, buried in 158 BCE in a preservative so effective that autopsy was still possible, was the still-soft body of “Lady Dai,” the marquis’s wife, cocooned in twenty layers of silk within four nested coffins; and more than a thousand artifacts — treasures in painted silk, lacquer, brass, and wood. Liu-Perkins describes the discovery in fascinating detail, including the lady’s household appointments, diet, amusements, and death; brief imagined scenes supplement the evidence. Perhaps the most significant find was a “library” of books written on silk and bamboo, safe in a lacquer box in the son’s tomb: fifty texts and documents, many of them unique, concerning science, philosophy, history, and government. Illustrative materials include maps and well-captioned photos as well as Brannen’s watercolors of the imagined scenes. Sidebars, too, supplement and clarify information, as do timelines, a glossary, citations for quotes, an index, and a two-page bibliography. Lady Dai’s remains are of huge interest in their own right; as Liu-Perkins ably demonstrates, such a find not only extends our factual knowledge but also deepens our appreciation of the diversity of past civilizations.

From the July/August 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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2. Words with Wings - a review

Below is my review from the August, 2014, edition of School Library Journal.


GRIMES, Nikki. Words with Wings. 1 CD. 41 min. Recorded
Books. 2014. $15.75. ISBN 9781490609676. Playaway, digital
download.

Gr 3–5— Gabriella is a dreamer, more like the father she visits than the mother she lives with every day. Since her parents separated, Gabby and her mother have moved, and she has enrolled in a new school. Always the class daydreamer, she's prepared for the teasing that she knows will come. Mention the word "butterfly," and her thoughts may soar out the classroom window on the imagined wings of a beautiful creature. Other words create thoughts that are more pensive. Sometimes it's easier to retreat into her imagination than to face her circumstances. Gabby's expectations for her new school are low, but her teacher and a quiet boy in the back of the room offer some hope in her new surroundings. With encouragement, perhaps a pen and paper can anchor the "words with wings" that set Gabby's mind adrift. Mutiyat Ade-Salu is perfectly cast for this story in verse, told in the first person in the present tense story. Her voice is youthful and likable, and as Gabriella's thoughts soar, plummet, and wander, so too does the voice of Ade-Salu. A perfect book for poets, dreamers, and reluctant readers.


Copyright © 2014 Library Journals, LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. Reprinted with permission.

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3. Visual Writer Introductions

Fostering a nurturing writing community at the beginning of the school year means taking the time to build a community of writers. Here's an artistic way you can have students introduce themselves, and their quirks, to their peers.

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4. Who’s doing the thinking?

Over the summer, I’ve been doing some literacy work with an educational consulting group here in Boston — we’re taking some of their existing professional development (PD) and classroom tools and modifying them to better address the Common Core. Last week, I went with some other members of the team to a PD session for high school teachers titled “Who’s Doing the Thinking?” In light of the Common Core, this workshop was designed to help teachers accurately assess the thinking demands in their classroom, and to make informed decisions around when we should guide students in diving into complex texts, and when we should let them do it on their own.

As part of this workshop, we watched a video of a high-performing 9th grade ELA classroom. The students were seated in a modified semi-circle having a whole-class discussion around themes in the latest chapter of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks — a literary nonfiction text they were reading together. As the teacher facilitated the discussion, she skillfully asked probing questions like “What makes you say that?” “Where in the text can you find evidence to support that?” “Why do you think that?”  Her questions enabled students to really ground their thinking in textual evidence — a key piece of Common Core reading.

However, I couldn’t help but notice another teacher move that happened often. After each student finished giving evidence and making a statement, the teacher almost always offered a “summary plus.” That is, she concisely restated the student’s point and added some of her own thinking to the student’s comment. I likely noticed this because I do it all the time: taking a student comment and adding more detail. Now, I think this is sometimes wholly appropriate, but after watching about ten minutes of this video and reflecting on my own practice, I wondered, Shouldn’t we be trying to get students to do these “summary pluses”? In a perfect world, wouldn’t we be nearly absent from the conversation?

The video clip I watched happened towards the beginning of a unit, and I have no doubt that the discussion was more “teacher heavy” than later discussions would be. But the video still got me thinking. In addition to simply probing students to give evidence, what can we as teachers say and do to encourage students to give those mini-summaries? One thing I’ve decided I’d like to try in my classroom this fall is to be very explicit about my “summary pluses.” During early discussions of text, I will tell my students exactly what I’m doing when I rephrase and add my own thinking, and then I’ll slowly try to release the responsibility to them.

Giving up control of the thinking in a classroom is so much harder than it looks, but as I delve into the Common Core this summer, I’m realizing more and more how necessary it is. I’m excited to really practice what I preach this fall, and I’m looking forward to hearing from other educators on how you navigate the thinking balance in your classrooms!

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5. The Summer I Saved the World . . . in 65 Days: Michele Weber Hurwitz

Book: The Summer I Saved the World ... in 65 Days
Author: Michele Weber Hurwitz
Pages: 272
Age Range: 10 and up

The Summer I Saved the World ... in 65 Days is about a thirteen-year-old girl who decides to do "one good thing every single day", anonymously, over the summer before starting high school. This would not ordinarily be my sort of thing. But The Summer I Saved the World ... in 65 Days is about much more than the good deeds themselves. It's about that awkward stage in life when you start to grow in different directions from your childhood friends. It's about neighbors, and family, and the very early stages of adolescent attraction. And of all of this is exactly my sort of thing. I liked this book very much. 

Nina is someone who most readers will be able to relate to on one level or another. She likes playing basketball (though she's not sure she can make the high school team). She's exploring a new interest in art. She has a group of friends that she's spent time with because of common activities, but isn't sure she really belongs with them. She plays cheerfully with the little boy next door. She feels frustrated by her work-obsessed parents, and mourns a time when her family was different. And she both loves and is frustrated by her long-time best friend, Jorie. She declares herself "in beween everything". So many of us have been there at one point or another. 

The Summer I Saved the World ... in 65 Days could almost have been written about a girl about to start middle school, instead of high school. It is definitely age-appropriate for middle schoolers - there are a couple of kisses; even the rebellious older brother sits around with his friends and plays poker and drinks root beer.

It's also relatively timeless. Much is made of Nina's not-very-functional cell phone. To me this seemed to be a device to keep Nina focused on the real world, and real conversations. There's plenty of playing ball in the cul-de-sac, gardening, and going to the playground. 

One thing that I really liked about this book was the way that the author highlights everyone in Nina's small neighborhood. This includes people of all ages, and at least a bit of ethnic diversity. There's a little map of the cul-de-sac at the front of the book, adding to cozy feel of the setting.

There's no question that The Summer I Saved the World ... in 65 Days is a feel-good, coming of age story. Nina learns to "step up", instead of waiting for other people to do things. Her actions help to draw the neighborhood together (despite the suspicious reaction of one resident). But Michele Weber Hurwitz keeps the book from feeling message-y by focusing on Nina's first-person voice, and by making it clear that everything Nina does is self-directed. Here's what Nina has to say about it:

"I've never been terrific at finishing projects. This past year, I started a scrapbook, a journal, three books, daily yoga stretches, and a beauty routine involving a weekly mask and blackhead strips. I didn't continue any of them. I got bored, distracted. But the sixty-five things are something I want to finish. I have to. They're sneaky and fun and exciting--thinking of them, figuring out how to keep them secret. Every time, I get this filled-up, kind of powerful feeling. Strong. Hopeful." (Page 53)

The Summer I Save the World ... in 65 Days is a very nice read for middle schoolers, more girls than boys, I think (particularly given the pink and yellow cover). It addresses that yen that kids get sometimes to be a better person, and also explores the "in between" times that arise as kids grow up, and sometimes grow away from other people. There's a light romance and a smidgen of family drama to keep things interesting. The Summer I Saved the World .. in 65 Days is a fun book with heart. Recommended!

Publisher: Wendy Lamb Books (@RandomHouseKids
Publication Date: April 8, 2014
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

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6. Review of Like No Other

lamarche like no other Review of Like No OtherLike No Other
by Una LaMarche
Middle School, High School    Razorbill/Penguin    347 pp.
7/14    978-1-59514-674-8    $17.99    g

How’s this for a meet cute? New York teens Devorah and Jaxon get stuck in a hospital elevator during a hurricane. Though their encounter is a fairly brief one, it’s also intense, and both come away with that love-at-first-sight feeling. Here’s where things get complicated. Devorah is a Hasidic Jew, and a frum one at that (“basically the Yiddish equivalent of ‘hopeless goody two-shoes’”). Jaxon is black. They live in present-day Crown Heights; and although, as Jaxon says, “the neighborhood has become so gentrified that I’m more likely to get hit by an artisanal gluten-free scone than a bullet, let’s be real,” tensions can still run high, especially within Devorah’s ultra-conservative family. Even though Devorah’s menacing brother-in-law, a member of the Shomrim (Orthodox neighborhood watch), is on to them, she still can’t resist accidentally-on-purpose bumping into Jax at his work and accepting the cell phone he sneaks (in a grand romantic gesture) into her yard. The story is told from the teens’ alternating perspectives. While Jax is a little too good to be true, Devorah, whether agonizing over her love life or sharing informative details about Hasidic daily life and religious philosophy, is believable and engaging. Her struggle between tradition and modernity, filial duty and personal fulfillment, is complicated and realistic; just because she doesn’t want an arranged marriage doesn’t mean she’s ready to turn her back on her family and her culture. This leads to a conclusion that, while bittersweet, is still hopeful.

From the July/August 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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7. The Animal Book e-book review

animal book The Animal Book e book reviewSteve Jenkins’s 2014 Boston Globe-Horn Book Nonfiction Honor Book The Animal Book: A Collection of the Fastest, Fiercest, Toughest, Cleverest, Shyest — and Most Surprising — Animals on Earth is available in an enhanced e-book edition (HMH, 2013).

An introduction describes the book’s features: Animal Fact Pop-Up Boxes provide more information about select creatures’ sizes, habitats, and diets, along with fun facts.

animal book manatee fact box The Animal Book e book review

An Embedded Glossary allows for quick definitions of terms that are printed in blue; there’s also a complete glossary for reference. Occasional Interactive Elements include comparison charts, timelines, and other at-a-glance features.

animal book ecological pyramid The Animal Book e book review

A Notes feature allows you to highlight text and take your own notes (on blank note-cards), along with quiz-like Study Cards that can be shuffled with your notes and used for recall.

The whole thing is pretty low-tech, but not in a bad way. Just as in Jenkins’s book, the art is what really shines through. The quality is high — all the pictures are crisp and bright, even the close-up images (go eye-to-eye with the colossal squid on page 44 or nose-to-nose with that Siberian tiger on page 104… if you dare!). The table of contents and scrolling footers allow you to jump to individual sections or to pages in Jenkins’s book, which was already well suited for browsing. There’s a 4.5-minute Making Of video at the end in which Jenkins discusses his process and shows viewers how he creates a rhino, from sketch to paper selection to cutting pieces with an X-acto to assembling the collage; he also shows a page-layout board… and shows off his own animal! (His dog makes a cameo.) Some ’80s-sounding background music jazzes up the narration.

Available for iPad and Mac; $9.99. Recommended for primary to middle school users.

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8. Review of This One Summer

tamaki this one summer Review of This One Summerstar2 Review of This One SummerThis One Summer
by Mariko Tamaki; illus. by Jillian Tamaki
Middle School    First Second/Roaring Brook    320 pp.
5/14    978-1-59643-774-6    $17.99

Rose Wallace and her parents go to Awago Beach every summer. Rose collects rocks on the beach, swims in the lake, and goes on bike rides with her younger “summer cottage friend,” Windy. But this year she is feeling too old for some of the activities she used to love — and even, at times, for the more-childish (yet self-assured) Windy. Rose would rather do adult things: watch horror movies and talk with Windy about boobs, boys, and sex. In their second graphic novel — another impressive collaboration — the Tamaki cousins (Skim, rev. 7/08) examine the mix of uncertainty and hope a girl experiences on the verge of adolescence. The episodic plot and varied page layout set a leisurely pace evocative of summer. Rose’s contemplative observations and flashbacks, along with the book’s realistic dialogue, offer insight into her evolving personality, while the dramatic changes in perspective and purply-blue ink illustrations capture the narrative’s raw emotional core. Secondary storylines also accentuate Rose’s transition from childhood to young adulthood: she’s caught in the middle of the tension between her parents (due to her mom’s recent abrasive moodiness and the painful secret behind it) and fascinated by the local teens’ behavior (swearing, drinking, smoking, fighting, and even a pregnancy; the adult situations — and frank language — she encounters may be eye-opening reading for pre-adolescents like Rose). This is a poignant drama worth sharing with middle-schoolers, and one that teen readers will also appreciate for its look back at the beginnings of the end of childhood.

From the July/August 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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9. Three Bird Summer: Sara St. Antoine

Book: Three Bird Summer
Author: Sara St. Antoine
Pages: 256
Age Range: 10 to 14

Three Bird Summer by Sara St. Antoine is a lovely book about the summer that a 12 year old boy spends at his grandmother's cabin on Three Bird Lake in Minnesota. It's a quiet sort of book about an introspective kid, but St. Antoine manages to touch upon the challenges families face as grandparents age, the aftermath of divorce, and the tentative first steps of boy-girl relationships. There's also a small mystery, and even a treasure map. It's a coming-of-age story, though without major drama. 

In truth, the subject matter of Three Bird Summer felt a bit ... familiar, with echoes of Cynthia Lord's Half a Chance and Karen Day's A Million Miles from Boston, and even Jeanne Birdsall's The Penderwicks at Point Mouette. Summer stories all, featuring kids of a similar age range. But the sheer beauty of St. Antoine's writing, as well as her choice to feature a male protagonist, make Three Bird Summer stand out. 

Adam is a fine narrator, a little geeky, a little lazy, and baffled by the behavior of girls. His initially reluctant friendship with new neighbor Alice, and the oh-so-gradual dawning of "more than friend" feelings, is utterly believable. Alice and her parents are, perhaps, a tiny bit too good to be true, but I love that she spent the previous summer at a science camp for girls, and that she chafes under the yoke of her over-protective parents. Adam's mother and grandmother are well-drawn, too, with flaws as well as surprises. 

Three Bird Summer perfectly captures the feel of a rustic summer lake house. Like this:

"Mom lingered in the kitchen while I hauled my duffel through the main part of the cabin, breathing in the familiar smell of wood paneling and fireplace cinders. Everything was in its usual place." (Page 10)

and

"A cool breeze crossed the water. It felt like the great North was barreling through me with my every breath. Here's what slipped away: schedules, bus rides, the stale smell of the school cafeteria, algebraic equations, Mom and Dad's phone arguments, girl talk, and Grandma's interrogations. Here's what I got in exchange: water sloshing slowly and steadily against the dock like the heartbeat of a great whale. A pair of black-and-white loons swimming into view. Fresh air and a lake that, right then, felt like it was all mine." (Page 16)

Reading the above passage, I could practically feel the tension leaving Adam's shoulders. Three Bird Summer is filled with passages that I wanted to save, long and short. Like this:

"Mom turned around and we began paddling again, but not in a getting-there sort of way -- more like a being-there sort of way." (Page 199)

For the rest, you'll have to read the book. Three Bird Summer is a book to read on your front porch on a warm summer day (or, even better, on a dock floating in a lake in your bathing suit). It's about growing up, the ways that family relationships change, and young love. It's beautifully written, with a strong sense of place, and well-rounded characters. While Three Bird Summer is clearly a book that will appeal to adult readers, I hope that kids find it and love it, too. Despite the male protagonist, Three Bird Summer certainly has as much appeal for girls as for boys. Recommended! 

Publisher: Candlewick (@Candlewick)
Publication Date: May 13, 2014
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

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10. Graphic novels for middle schoolers

From poignant historical fiction to introspective coming-of-age tale, hilarious space caper to action-packed superhero story, four new graphic novels for middle-schoolers showcase the range of the graphic novel format.

faulkner gaijin Graphic novels for middle schoolersIn Gaijin: American Prisoner of War, thirteen-year-old Koji Miyamoto is living in San Francisco with his (white) mother when Japan attacks Pearl Harbor. Despite being only half-Japanese, Koji is forced to relocate to the Alameda Downs Assembly Center across the bay. There he wrestles not only with his father’s temporary absence from the family but also with a gang of boys in the camp who constantly bully him — for being a gaijin, a foreigner. Through astute choices of medium, color, and composition, author/illustrator Matt Faulkner creates a vivid and compelling internment-camp drama for young readers. (Disney-Hyperion, 11–14 years)

tamaki this one summer Graphic novels for middle schoolersEvery summer Rose Wallace and her parents go to their cottage on Awago Beach. But this year Rose starts to feel too old for the activities she used to love — and, at times, even for her younger (and more childish) friend Windy. Meanwhile, Rose is caught up in the tension between her parents and fascinated by adult behaviors the local teens are trying on. In This One Summer, author-and-illustrator cousins Mariko and Jillian Tamaki examine the mix of uncertainty and hope that a girl experiences on the verge of adolescence. Dramatic purple-blue ink illustrations capture the raw emotional core of this story set at the beginning of the end of childhood. (Roaring Brook/First Second, 11–14 years)

maihack cleopatra in space Graphic novels for middle schoolersYanked from first-century B.C. Egypt to the Nile galaxy thousands of years in the future, Cleopatra (quick with both a quip and a ray gun) is hailed as a messiah destined to crush the evil Xerx. Author/illustrator Mike Maihack’s Cleopatra in Space: Target Practice portrays a time-warped Egypt in crisp line art, muted jewel tones, and striking perspectives that create riveting panels featuring futuristic pyramids and a flying-sphinx motorbike. After Cleo single-handedly vanquishes mummy robots and tosses out another one-liner (“Let’s wrap this up”) readers will be clamoring for more of Maihack’s dynamic illustrations, campy humor, and, of course, more Cleo. (Scholastic/Graphix, 11–14 years)

yang shadow hero Graphic novels for middle schoolersWorld War II–era cartoonist Chu Hing reportedly wanted his comic superhero the Green Turtle to be Chinese; not surprisingly for the time, his publishers balked. Now seventy years later, author Gene Luen Yang and illustrator Sonny Liew vindicate Hing in The Shadow Hero, which imagines the Green Turtle as “the first Asian American superhero.” Hank wants to lead a quiet existence in the Chinatown of noir-ish (fictional) San Incendio. But his mother has higher aspirations for Hank: she wants her son to be a superhero. Humor, strong characters, and cracking good action — plus a nuanced portrayal of Chinese American culture — keep the requisite trials and tribulations of the superhero-in-training fresh. (Roaring Brook/First Second, 11–14 years)

From the June 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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11. The Great Greene Heist: Varian Johnson

Book: The Great Greene Heist
Author: Varian Johnson
Pages: 240
Age Range: 10-14

The Great Green Heist is a fun caper novel for middle school students, written by Varian Johnson. It features Jackson Greene, a semi-reformed prankster who sets out, with a talented crew, to ensure that his former almost-girlfriend wins the election for student council president. There are spy novel trappings such as disguises, hidden microphones, and custom gadgets. However, the real emphasis in The Great Greene Heist is on interpersonal dynamics, and the role that the various kids play in the drama.

The Great Green Heist features a diverse cast of characters (as one can see by looking closely at the cover), but it is about the heist (well, more of a scam), rather than being about the ethnicity of any one character. Johnson does a nice job of including small details that let the reader know that the characters come from different backgrounds, without distracting too much from the story. There is one minor character, an administrative assistant in the Principal's office, who is overtly racist, but skin colors are otherwise mainly a background matter. A bigger difference in how Jackson perceives other students involves whether or not they play basketball (and how good they are), rather than what they look like.

In truth, I had a bit of trouble sorting out all of the characters and their relationships at the beginning of the book. I had to go back and skim the first few chapters a couple of times. A relationship diagram / cast of characters might have been helpful. There is a glossary of Jackson's past capers included in the book's end materials, as well as a list of the 15 rules that make up the "Greene Code of Conduct." For example, "Stay cool under pressure. A rattled crew is a mistake-prone crew."

The Great Greene Heist has an intro sure to pull kids in: 

"As Jackson Greene sped past the Maplewood Middle School Cafeteria -- his trademark red tie skewed slightly to the left, a yellow No. 2 pencil balanced behind his hear, and a small spiral-bound notebook tucked in his right jacket pocket -- he found himself dangerously close to sliding back into the warm confines of scheming and pranking." (Page 1)

The story is a bit over the top, as is common in caper-type novels, featuring a candidate with basically no redeeming value, and a corrupt principal, not to mention a cooler-than-cool Jackson. I was reminded a bit of the Veronica Mars television series, in a good way. Kind of a quirkier, more interesting school than one might actually find in real life. 

I enjoyed The Great Greene Heist, and I think that kids will, too. I especially liked the character of Gaby, a strong girl running for Student Council President. Gaby at one point laments a female friend who prefers watching boys play sports over playing herself, and vows never to be like that herself. I think I would have liked to be friends with her. And I love the fact that Jackson makes it cool to be smart.

The Great Green Heist has become a bit of a poster-book for diversity, in light of the recent We Need Diverse Books campaign. But don't read it out of some sense of making a difference by reading diverse books. No, read it because it's a fun story about smart kids taking matters into their own hands, and bending the rules for a greater good. Recommended for middle school readers, boys or girls. 

Publisher: Scholastic (@Scholastic)
Publication Date: May 27, 2014
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

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12. Review of Dust of Eden

nagai dust of eden Review of Dust of EdenDust of Eden
by Mariko Nagai
Intermediate, Middle School    Whitman    122 pp.
3/14    978-0-8075-1739-0    $16.99

In this verse novel, we first meet Mina Tagawa and her Seattle-based family just before the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Shortly after, her father is imprisoned, and the rest of the family — Mina, her mother, grandfather, and older brother Nick — are sent to the Minidoka Relocation Center in Idaho, where they live in poor conditions for three years. Over the course of that time, Mina’s beloved grandfather dies, and Nick enlists and is sent to the European front. Interspersed throughout the main text are letters Mina writes to her father, to her best friend from home, and to Nick; Mina’s school assignments; and, most poignantly, honest letters about the war that Nick writes from Europe but can never send. The sheer volume of issues raised in the slim novel (racism, tensions between immigrant generations, the nature of American identity and patriotism, the liberation of Dachau, the Hiroshima bombing) can overwhelm the personal story, leaving readers somewhat disconnected from Mina. However, Nagai’s writing is spare and rhythmic — it’s real poetry.

From the May/June 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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13. COPPER MAGIC by Julia Mary Gibson, or, an emphatic "Cut it out!" from AICL

In Copper Magic, twelve-year-old Violet Blake is digging by a stream near her house in Michigan and finds a "talisman" -- a copper hand that she comes to call "the Hand." Violet feels that this hand has some kind of power. She thinks she can use it to make wishes come true. Course, her first wish (for a new dress) does come true (actually she gets TWO new dresses), so she's thinking about how she'll use it to get her mom and little brother back home. Her mother is half Odawa.

Well, it turns out there was more than just that copper hand in the spot where Violet was digging. There's also a skeleton there that is dug up (another kid finds it), reassembled, and displayed as a curiosity in a local hotel.

Cue some fake Hollywood Indian music...

Can't be messing around in them Indian burial grounds, right?! We've seen THAT enough times in movies and TV shows to know that messing with bones and artifacts means bad things are gonna happen. And of course, bad things happen to the people in Copper Magic. Lots of bad things. A wicked storm. Lake water behaving in odd ways. Death. Before all that happens, Mercy (Violet's new friend) talks about how there might be a curse on the grave... Violet and her mother (remember--her mom is half Odawa) have special powers, too. They can see things other people can't.

"Cut!"

Cut that fake Hollywood Indian music, that is, and an emphatic "Cut it out!" as my parents would say when I was doing something wrong.

Cut it out, Julia Mary Gibson! 
Cut it out, Susan Cooper! 
Cut it out, Rosanne Parry!


"Cut what?" you may wonder... Quit writing about Native spirituality! You mean well, but you don't know what you're doing. From a place of ignorance, you're adding to an already-too-tall pile of garbage that gets circulated as information about Native people.

A good many writers have a moment in their life that touched them in such a way that they feel they must write about Native people. Gibson's moment is described in her Afterword. When she was eleven years old, she and her family found some bones near their summer cottage in Michigan. "[A]n expert" said they were "most likely American Indian but not old enough to be archeologically significant" (p. 329), so her grandfather "pieced together a skeleton and mounted it on plywood." Her "superstitious" grandma didn't like it and insisted the bones be reburied. This took place in the late 1960s or early 1970s (my guess, based on Gibson's bio at Macmillan that says she was born "in the time of Freedom Rides and the Vietnam War").

Gibson goes on to say that her grandfather didn't know better.

In Copper Magic, Violet is Gibson. The person who puts the skeleton on display is Mr. Dell, a hotel owner intent on increasing his business. The superstitious person who wants the bones reburied? Well, that is Mrs. Agosa, an Odawa woman who tells Violet to "Watch out for ghosts out by you" because "mad ghosts can throw out curses" (p. 134).

Gibson, Cooper, Parry and many other writers poke around a bit and pack their stories with bits of info that make it sound like they know a lot about American Indians. Gibson does that in Copper Magic when she has some of her characters talk about grave robbing and why it is wrong. She also does that when she has Mrs. Agosa talk about the hotel owner burning her people's village and orchards because he wanted their land. In the Afterword, Gibson tells us that part of the story is true (p. 330):
"The real people of the Chaboiganing Band were yanked from their houses by a crooked land grabber and the local sheriff, who flung kerosene over homes and orchards and burned down the whole village, just as Mrs. Agosa tells it."
The burning of that village is important information. It is what major publishers like Macmillan (publisher of Copper Magic) ought to make known. I wish Gibson had made it the heart of her story. Instead, she chose to tell a story about grave robbing, curses, and mystical Indians. There's more to the "mystical Indians" theme... Interspersed throughout Copper Magic are pages about two ancient women: Crooked Woman and Greenstone. Those parts of Gibson's novel are presented in italics. They feed the mainstream monster of stereotypical expectations--where people love to read about "mystical Indians" and our tragic history.

In Copper Magic, Violet's dad is a steady voice saying that Indian graves deserve respect and ought to be left alone. Violet parrots some of what he says but doesn't really understand. Ironically, Gibson is more like Violet than she realizes. Her understanding is superficial. Violet wants to use the hand to get what she wants. Gibson uses the childhood story to do what she wants.

As you may have guessed by now, I don't like what Gibson has done in Copper Magic.  And of course, I do not recommend it. Copper Magic is another FAIL from a major publisher.

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14. Review of Treasury of Egyptian 
Mythology

napoli treasury of egyptian mythology Review of Treasury of Egyptian 
MythologyTreasury of Egyptian Mythology:
Classic Stories of Gods,
Goddesses, Monsters & Mortals

by Donna Jo Napoli; 
illus. by Christina Balit
Intermediate, Middle School    National Geographic    192 pp.    10/13    978-1-4263-1380-6    $24.95
Library ed.  978-1-4263-1381-3    $33.90

As she did for her Treasury of Greek Mythology (rev. 1/12), Napoli brings a storyteller’s art and a scholar’s diligence to the myriad “slippery, entangled” deities of ancient Egypt, a pantheon generated over millennia, its gods multiplying or merging in response to an evolving civilization. Skillfully structuring her narrative from early creation stories to the Third Dynasty scholar Imhotep (deified two thousand years after his death), she weaves a well-chosen sample of myths into a disarmingly informal narrative spiced with plausible dynamics (“Set wasn’t in his right mind. The maiden was luscious; he was hot-blooded. Blind to the trap”). A scrupulous care for words, for language, and for the ideas they reflect all shine here. Illustrator Balit gathers ancient Egyptian forms and motifs into dynamic compositions, animating postures and perspectives for double-page-spread portraits and action-filled vignettes and enriching her illustrations with the colors of river and desert, pots and stones — carnelian, turquoise, topaz, lapis lazuli. Excellent front and back matter includes annotated lists of gods, bibliographies of sources and recommended reading, an index, sources for photos of artifacts, and — best of all — Napoli’s cogent rationale for her narrative choices, including using Egyptian names (Aset, Usir) rather than the more familiar Greek (Isis, Osiris). Beautiful and indispensable.

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15. Strategies For Teaching English Language Learners—Part 3: Teaching Vocabulary In Layers

Jill_EisenbergJill Eisenberg, our Resident Literacy Expert, began her career teaching English as a Foreign Language to second through sixth graders in Yilan, Taiwan as a Fulbright Fellow. She went on to become a literacy teacher for third grade in San Jose, CA as a Teach for America corps member. She is certified in Project Glad instruction to promote English language acquisition and academic achievement. In her column she offers teaching and literacy tips for educators. 

The U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Science (IES) and What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) released the latest educator’s guide to present best instructional practices for English Language Learners.

Although we cannot explicitly teach all academic and content-specific words our students will need to know in their educations and careers, we can be strategic in how we teach 5-8 words a week so they can apply these word strategies to new words they come across on their own.

Last week I applied the guide’s recommendations on how to choose an appropriate text and vocabulary words for English Language Learners and I modeled it with the Lee & Low informational text, Drumbeat In Our Feet.

I will continue to focus on the guide’s first recommendation: Teach a set of academic vocabulary words intensively across several days using a variety of instructional activities.

Drumbeat In Our Feet

Drumbeat In Our Feet

Using Drumbeat In Our Feet and the IES’s process, my target words are origins, vital, ethnically, diverse, unique, vibrant and varied from the “Origins of African Dance” excerpt in Drumbeat In Our Feet. See how I chose these words here.

1. Read the text

IES: Introduce the topic of the text by asking about students understanding of the topic and personal experiences. Read the excerpt aloud at the start of the lesson. (P. 24)

Lee & Low: I would read the text aloud so students who cannot comprehend the text independently can access the text whole group. All students should be able to follow along with their own student copy. Only constant interaction with the print and following along will allow students to connect with what I am saying and how I say it with what they are seeing in the print.

Origins of African Dance" excerpt from Drumbeat In Our Feet

“Origins of African Dance,” excerpt from Drumbeat In Our Feet

2. Introduce the vocabulary

IES: After reading the text and stopping to ask clarifying questions, introduce the target vocabulary words and have students find the words (in their copies). Display a list of the words in the classroom. (P. 24)

3. Teach the vocabulary words in layers

IES: “Teach academic vocabulary in depth using multiple modalities (writing, speaking, listening)” and “teach word-learning strategies to help students independently figure out the meaning of words.” (P. 18-22)

Lee & Low: Over the course of 5-8 days (lesson periods), I would focus on a couple of aspects of each of the new vocabulary words. On a whole class chart where the target words are listed, I would add a new component to each word each day in order to deepen the meaning and foster familiarity with the words for students.

Together we will create a student-friendly definition; write synonyms, antonyms, examples, non-examples; determine parts of speech; draw a picture or create an action/gesture to represent the words; list related word forms and any cognates; break the word down into word parts; and use the word in a meaningful, student-generated sentence.

For example, Monday I would read the excerpt, introduce the target words, find the target words in the text, and come up with a definition for each target word. Tuesday, I would revisit the chart and add synonyms, antonyms, examples, and non-examples for all the vocabulary words to reinforce meaning. Wednesday I would cover part of speech and concrete representations, and so on.

Below is how I would teach my target word, origins, from Drumbeat In Our Feet but I would cover all of the target words each day.

Monday

  • student-friendly definition: the source where something starts

Tuesday

  • synonyms: beginnings, birthplace, roots, foundation
  • antonyms: end, destination, result
  • examples: beginning of the universe and life, family backgrounds/heritage, word roots, superhero/comic book origin stories
  • non-examples: death of a star, the youngest person in the family tree, the last book in a comic book series

Wednesday

  • part of speech: noun
  • draw a picture to represent the word: I might draw a lake with a river leading up to a mountain and arrow pointing to where the river starts.
  • create an action/gesture to represent the word: with my left hand held out at hip-level as the “lake,” I would point with my right finger to my left shoulder (the mountain) as the origin of the river. [Tip: Students are great at brainstorming concrete representations of words!]

Thursday

  • list related word forms: original, originate
  • list any cognates: origine (French), origen (Spanish)

Friday

  • affixes: none
  • use the word in a meaningful, student-generated sentence: We hiked from the lake up to the mountain looking for the origins of the river. The original owner of this house built this house all on her own in 1956.

Remember: This is a process I will repeat each week or every 5-8 lessons with a new text and set of target words. While my students may know only up to 400 new vocabulary words by the end of the year, this repeated process will allow them to tackle new vocabulary words in other content classes and in independent reading.

Next week, we will take a look at how to incorporate the selected vocabulary into activities that support listening, speaking, and writing practice for English Language Learners.

Further reading on supporting English Language Learners in the classroom:


Filed under: Curriculum Corner Tagged: CCSS, close reading, common core standards, ELA common core standards, elementary school, ELLs, English Language Learners, guided reading, Institute of Education Science, middle school, Reading Aloud, US Department of Education, vocabulary

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16. Review of West of the Moon

preus west of the moon Review of West of the Moonstar2 Review of West of the Moon West of the Moon
by Margi Preus
Intermediate, Middle School    Amulet/Abrams    216 pp.
4/14    978-1-4197-0896-1    $16.95

Preus, whose Shadow on the Mountain (rev. 11/12) was set in Nazi-occupied Norway, here takes readers to mid-nineteenth-century Norway in a tale strongly infused with myth. Fourteen-year-old Astri is determined to go to America to find her widowed father. But first she must escape the brutish goat herder to whom her greedy aunt and uncle have sold her, free the other young captive he’s been hiding, and rescue her little sister Greta from their aunt and uncle. Astri tells her story in three parts: her time slaving away for smelly Svaalberd the goatman, her discovery of the mysterious girl hidden in the storehouse, and her daring retrieval of Greta; the girls’ frantic flight through the countryside; and, finally, the ocean voyage to America, which ends on a heartbreaking yet hopeful note. Several Norwegian folktales are seamlessly integrated into the fast-paced, lyrically narrated story, which features a protagonist as stalwart and fearless as any fairy-tale hero. A glossary and select bibliography are appended along with an author’s note listing the folktales referenced and quoting the 1851 diary entry (by Preus’s great-great-grandmother) that inspired the novel.

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17. 2014 Summer Reading from The Horn Book: Middle School Fiction and Nonfiction

Need suggestions for beach reading or books to bring to summer camp? We’ve hand-picked our top ten in each age range, all published 2013–2014, that are ideal for the season. Grade levels are only suggestions; the individual child is the real criterion. For a handy take-along list of titles, follow this link to a printable PDF.

Picture Books (Fiction and Nonfiction) | Early Readers and Younger Fiction
Intermediate Fiction and Nonfiction | High School Fiction and Nonfiction

Middle School Fiction and Nonfiction

Suggested grade level for all entries: 6–8

ellis outside in 170x255 2014 Summer Reading from The Horn Book: Middle School Fiction and NonfictionOutside In by Sarah Ellis (Groundwood)
Lynn, raised by an irresponsible, unreliable bohemian mother, yearns for normalcy. After meeting Blossom, a girl whose family lives off the grid in a self-sufficient underground bunker, Lynn begins to see her city and her own experience through new eyes. 207 pages.

gansworth if i ever get out of here 2014 Summer Reading from The Horn Book: Middle School Fiction and NonfictionIf I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth (Levine/Scholastic)
Lewis, from the Tuscarora Indian Reservation in 1970s upstate New York, is beginning seventh grade at a mostly white junior high, and he’s tired of not fitting in. A friendship with newcomer George helps Lewis cope with loneliness and bullying. But does it constitute a betrayal of his identity? 360 pages.

gleason clockwork scarab 2014 Summer Reading from The Horn Book: Middle School Fiction and NonfictionThe Clockwork Scarab [Stoker & Holmes] by Colleen Gleeson (Chronicle)
In alternate Victorian London, Mina Holmes (Sherlock’s niece) and Evaline Stoker (Bram’s sister) team up to solve a series of murders involving high-society girls, the British Museum, and ancient Egyptian artifacts. The story veers into sci-fi when an unwitting time-traveler, modern-day boy Dylan, arrives. 356 pages.

greenberg mad potter 2014 Summer Reading from The Horn Book: Middle School Fiction and NonfictionThe Mad Potter: George E. Ohr, Eccentric Genius by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan (Porter/Roaring Brook)
Sibert Honor Book
“Eccentric” is an apt word for Ohr, a Mississippi blacksmith’s son (1857–1918) who reinvented himself as a potter. Greenberg and Jordan have produced a magisterial portrait that’s both a character study and an appreciation of their subject’s oeuvre. 56 pages.

kidd go 2014 Summer Reading from The Horn Book: Middle School Fiction and NonfictionGo: A Kidd’s Guide to Graphic Design by Chip Kidd; illus. by the author (Workman)
This overview makes graphic design immediate and accessible, posing questions and answering them in engaging ways. The first four chapters — “Form,” “Typography,” “Content,” “Concept” — tackle design essentials and some advanced ideas. The final chapter presents “10 Design Projects.” 160 pages.

far far away 2014 Summer Reading from The Horn Book: Middle School Fiction and NonfictionFar Far Away by Tom McNeal (Knopf)
Jeremy has the ability to hear ghosts; long-dead Jacob Grimm becomes his mentor and guardian. With Jacob’s help, Jeremy becomes a whiz at school and charms his crush Ginger — but the presence of the malevolent “Finder of Occasions” gives the story a shiver of horror as dark as any of the Grimm tales. 373 pages.

meyer cress 2014 Summer Reading from The Horn Book: Middle School Fiction and NonfictionCress [Lunar Chronicles] by Marissa Meyer (Feiwel)
This fairy tale/sci-fi hybrid series continues with a “Rapunzel”-inspired story. Cress, taken from her Lunar parents as a baby, is forced to live alone on a satellite, spying on the Earthens for Queen Levana. But her real loyalty lies with cyborg Cinder’s plan to protect Earth by dethroning the queen. 550 pages.

moriarty cracks in the kingdom 2014 Summer Reading from The Horn Book: Middle School Fiction and NonfictionThe Cracks in the Kingdom [Colors of Madeleine] by Jaclyn Moriarty (Levine/Scholastic)
In this sequel to the Boston Globe–Horn Book Honor winner A Corner of White, Madeleine (in Cambridge, England) and Elliot (in the Kingdom of Cello) continue to communicate through a “crack” between the two worlds. When the Cello royal family goes missing in Madeleine’s world, Madeleine and Elliot attempt to cross over themselves. 499 pages.

reynolds when i was the greatest 2014 Summer Reading from The Horn Book: Middle School Fiction and NonfictionWhen I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds (Atheneum)
Ali’s thing is boxing, Noodles’s is comic books, and Needles’s is…knitting, to help control his Tourette’s syndrome. The three friends live in Brooklyn’s tough Bed-Stuy neighborhood, but the book also shows how zip codes are just one aspect of people’s lives. 232 pages.

sloan counting by 7s 2014 Summer Reading from The Horn Book: Middle School Fiction and NonfictionCounting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan (Dial)
After her parents’ death, oddball twelve-year-old genius Willow Chance is taken in by her only friend, high schooler Mai Nguyen, Mai’s mother, and her surly brother Quang-ha. These initially disparate characters, plus cabdriver Jairo Hernandez, ultimately connect to form a new family. What sets this book apart are its lack of sentimentality and its truly multicultural cast. 380 pages.

For past years’ summer reading lists from The Horn Book, click on the tag summer reading.

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18. Strategies for Teaching English Language Learners – Part 2: Choosing a Text and Vocabulary Words

Jill_EisenbergJill Eisenberg, our Resident Literacy Expert, began her career teaching English as a Foreign Language to second through sixth graders in Yilan, Taiwan as a Fulbright Fellow. She went on to become a literacy teacher for third grade in San Jose, CA as a Teach for America corps member. She is certified in Project Glad instruction to promote English language acquisition and academic achievement. In her column she offers teaching and literacy tips for educators. 

As I mentioned last week, the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Science (IES) and What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) released the latest educator’s guide to present best instructional practices for English Language Learners.

Let’s take a look at the guide’s first recommendation: Teach a set of academic vocabulary words intensively across several days using a variety of instructional activities.

Here is an example of how to apply the first recommendation using IES’s process and Lee & Low Books’ informational nonfiction text, Drumbeat In Our Feet.

Drumbeat In Our Feet

Drumbeat In Our Feet

  1. Choose a text:

IES: “Choose a text that is brief, interesting, and engaging for the students; contains a variety of target academic words to focus on; connects to a given unit of study and builds the students’ knowledge of a topic; provides sufficient detail and examples for students to be able to comprehend the passage; and contains ideas that can be discussed from a variety of perspectives.” (P. 14)

Lee & Low: Based on these criteria, I selected the first chapter, “Origins of African Dance.” The reading level of Drumbeat In Our Feet is best suited for fourth through sixth graders. The topic of dance history is relatable and relevant to this age group. It will spark student interest and engagement and promote discussion. The short excerpt is an appropriate length that can be read within one class period and is worth multiple re-readings over the coming days.

  1. Select vocabulary:

IES: Select a small number of academic vocabulary words (content-specific and general academic) for multi-day instruction. For in-depth exploration, consider only 5-8 words. The IES suggests choosing words “central to understanding the text, frequently used in the text, might appear in other content areas, with multiple meanings, with affixes, or cross-language potential.” (P. 16-17)

Lee & Low: Based on these criteria, I picked: origins, vital, ethnically, diverse, unique, vibrant and varied from the “Origins of African Dance” excerpt in DrumbeatDrumbeat In Our Feet. These words are key to understanding the text, will appear in other content areas students will explore, and several have multiple meanings.

Additionally, I used Flocabulary’s Wordlists to check my words against their grade level recommendations because Flocabulary’s researchers analyze grade level materials and high stakes tests to determine what academic words students should know in each grade. Origins is on the third grade word list and variety (related word form to varied) is on the fourth grade word list. Vital, diversity (related word form to diverse), unique, and vibrant are on the sixth grade word list. However, there are quite a few wordlists available to do this verification so utilize what your district/school recommends or another you have confidence using.

Next week, we will take a look at how to introduce and teach the selected vocabulary across multiple lesson periods using Drumbeat In Our Feet followed by writing and speaking/listening activities for your students to grasp the words’ meanings.

Further reading on supporting English Language Learners in the classroom:


Filed under: Curriculum Corner Tagged: CCSS, close reading, common core standards, ELA common core standards, elementary school, ell, English Language Learners, informational nonfiction, middle school, reading comprehension, vocabulary

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19. Review of The Children of the King

hartnett children of the king Review of The Children of the Kingstar2 Review of The Children of the King The Children of the King
by Sonya Hartnett
Intermediate, Middle School    Candlewick    266 pp.
3/14    978-0-7636-6735-1    $16.99    g
e-book ed.  978-0-7636-7042-9    $16.99

Continuing her string of novels exploring the effects of war on innocents (The Silver Donkey, rev. 9/06; The Midnight Zoo, rev. 9/11), Hartnett’s latest book tackles the home front. In the early days of World War II, twelve-year-old Cecily Lockwood, her older brother Jeremy, and their mother flee London for the safety of Uncle Peregrine’s country manor. Jeremy chafes at being packed off to the country, since he desperately wants to contribute to the war effort, and tensions escalate between mother and son. Meanwhile, Cecily and an evacuee named May discover two boys dressed in fifteenth-century clothing hiding in the nearby ruins of Snow Castle, as Uncle Peregrine begins to recount the legend of Richard III and the young “Princes in the Tower.” As always, Hartnett’s gift for language deftly conveys both the sublime and the mundane in life. “[The sun’s] heatless light reached over miles of marsh…and finally crawled, with a daddy-longlegs’s fragility, up the walls of Heron Hall to Cecily’s window.” Hartnett grounds the relatively minor fantasy presence in the book with a heartfelt examination of the pain and hardships, endured by civilians in wartime. Cecily is a naive, spoiled, but well-intentioned heroine, effectively contrasted by the quietly independent and mature May and impetuous, brave Jeremy. Over the course of the story, Hartnett’s characters waver between feelings of helplessness, anger, and fear; ultimately, they find the necessary resolve to carry on.

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20. I Even Funnier - an audiobook review


Below is my review of I Even Funnier: A Middle School Story, as it appeared in the March, 2014, edition of School Library Journal. I loved it!


PATTERSON, James & Chris Grabenstein. I Even Funnier: A Middle School Story. (I Funny Series, Bk. 2). 3 CDs. 4 hrs. Hachette Audio. 2013. $18. ISBN 9781478925156.

Gr 3–7—Wheelchair-bound Jamie Grimm is working on new material for his upcoming entry in the regional finals of the Planet's Funniest Kid Comic Contest. Patterson and Grabenstein pay homage to the timeless comedy of Abbott and Costello, Groucho Marx, and other greats, while introducing new jokes that speak directly to the middle school experience. Though it will date the series more quickly, references to trendy Vegas casinos and comedians such as Ray Romano, Ellen DeGeneres, Steven Wright, and Chris Rock give the book an air of hip relevancy. Can Jamie find humor in his bullying cousin, Uncle Frankie's medical emergency, and confusing relationships with Gilda Gold and "Cool Girl?" Yes, he can. And if you're wondering if a heavily illustrated comedic novel can make it as an audiobook, that's a yes, too. Young Frankie Seratch is perfectly cast as the narrator of this heartfelt and very funny look at middle school and family relationships. Seratch ensures that the humor comes across as intended, without a hint of mockery or maliciousness. A PDF companion file of the book's illustrations is included on disc three.


##

Copyright © 2014 Library Journals, LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc.
Reprinted with permission.



Note: I did not read or listen to the first book in the series, and had no trouble getting up to speed with the characters and story.

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21. The Mark of the Dragonfly: Jaleigh Johnson

Book: The Mark of the Dragonfly
Author: Jaleigh Johnson
Pages: 400
Age Range: 10 and up

I quite enjoyed The Mark of the Dragonfly a brand-new middle grade/middle school fantasy novel by Jaleigh Johnson. The Mark of the Dragonfly is set on another world, one that bears a resemblance to ours, but also includes non-human races and humans with unusual gifts. Piper lives on her own in the bleak Scrap Town 16, eking out a living as a scrapper and a machinist. Scrappers salvage items from other worlds that arrive in certain areas via meteor storms (an example is a book: "Embossed on the front cover was a picture of a girl and small dog. Next to her stood a grinning scarecrow, a lion, and man who looked like he was made entirely of metal.") 

Piper has a gift for machinery, and is good at refurbishing some of the recovered items. But she longs for more. Her life changes forever when she finds a mysterious, fragile girl in the scrap fields. Piper ends up on a quest to help Anna find her home, though the two girls are pursued by a powerful and dangerous man.  

The adult quibbler in me questions how Piper's world can be similar to ours in many ways, despite being on an apparently separate planet. But this wasn't enough to dampen my appreciation for the book. I liked Johnson's inclusion of other intelligent races, coexisting with humans in the world. 

But the real reason that I enjoyed the book is that the characters in The Mark of the Dragonfly are quite strong. Piper is angry about her father's death, and determined to make a better life for herself. She struggles plausibly with doing the right thing. Anna is a bit more of an enigma, by design, but she is fascinating, too. She has only fragmented memories of her life, but she is drawn to books, and can spout various arcane bits of knowledge. There are some nice supporting characters, too, including a potential love interest for Piper (all quite PG, still suitable for upper elementary and middle school kids).

The plotting in The Mark of the Dragonfly moves along quickly, with several dangerous encounters that will keep readers turning the pages. The ongoing puzzle regarding who Anna is, and why she is being pursued, lends a more over-arcing suspense. 

The Mark of the Dragonfly wraps the initial story up nicely. No cliffhangers here. But given the depth of the world that Johnson has created, I do hope that there are future installments. Recommended for fans of middle grade fantasy with strong characters and unusual worlds. This one is going to stick in my memory, I'm sure. 

Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids
Publication Date: March 25, 2014
Source of Book: Advanced review copy from the publisher

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© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

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22. Jane, the fox & me, by Fanny Britt and Isabelle Arsenault


I am smitten with this graphic novel that hits all of the right spots for any tween who has ever felt alone.

Hélène has been dumped by her friends. Not only dumped, but they are actively making her life intolerable.  Huddled in the hallways of school, snickering when she walks by, writing on the walls of the girls' bathroom.  "Hélène weighs 216! She smells like BO?" There's nowhere to hide.

Hélène finds some solace in her reading of Jane Eyre.  She reads better when her old friends aren't on the bus.  If they are she can at least look like she's not listening even when she can't help but hear them.

Hélène doesn't want to burden her mother with what is going on. Her mother works so hard for the family, and Hélène doesn't want to add to her pile of things.  But her mother does have to take her shopping downtown when it is announced that Hélène's class will be going to the woods to nature camp for four nights.  Four night with Geneviève, Sarah, Anne-Julie and Chloé.  And bathing suits will be involved.

Not surprisingly Hélène is selected into the tent of outcasts.  Which is okay with her because at least it's quiet.  But a chance encounter with a fox and noticing the empathy in someone's eyes combine to shift Jane's world of exile.

Exquisitely drawn, this is a book to be owned.  And shared.  I borrowed it from the library, but then quickly purchased the English and French versions.  Jane's life is depicted in black and white, while the Jane Eyre portions are awash in blocks of color.  I would buy this book for the panels on pages 58-59 and 74-75 alone.  I look forward to reading the (original) French version to see what nuances might be different.  This is a quiet book, but it is not to be missed.

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23. “Where do you buy these?”

barnesnoble cherryhillNJ 300x231 Where do you buy these?

Barnes and Noble at Cherry Hill, NJ.

Eight years ago, the question shocked me: “Mr. Ribay, where do you buy these?”

The student was holding up a book. He had no idea where to buy a book. That was my first year teaching in Camden, NJ and the first time I had ever encountered someone who had to ask this question. But it wouldn’t be the last.

“Umm,” I said, “a bookstore.”

The answer seemed obvious, but later I thought about it further. Had I bought it in a physical bookstore? I probably purchased it online. This eighth grader couldn’t do that without a parent with a credit card. And where was the nearest bookstore? It was in the suburbs, and, again, this eighth grader probably couldn’t get there without someone willing and able to drive him.

Furthermore, the city’s public libraries left much to be desired. They actually closed down completely a few years later, making Camden the largest city in the United States at the time without a public library (thankfully, a couple branches eventually reopened as part of the county system).

camdenfreepubliclibrary 500x375 Where do you buy these?

The Camden Free Public Library

That simple, surprising question actually spoke volumes: Camden, the resting place of Walt Whitman, was a literary desert. It’s not that there weren’t people who still read and wrote, as there certainly were. I knew students who read well above their grade level, inhaling books like oxygen, and then offering profound comments that left me reeling. But the sad truth was that they were few and far between.

Many students in the inner-city do not grow up in literacy-rich environments. They may not have been read to regularly as children. Their houses might not have contained several shelves of books. They might not take regular trips to the library or a store that only sells books.

Eight years later, I now teach high school English at a charter school in West Philadelphia, but this question and its implications have remained in the forefront of my mind. Relative to the nearby neighborhood schools, our students perform pretty well, with a vast majority of each graduating class gaining acceptance to four-year colleges or universities.

Yet our average student still reads below grade level, our top students’ SAT scores are unimpressive, and a majority of our students couldn’t tell you the last time they read an entire book for fun.

I appreciate the complexity behind acquiring language and literacy. But it seems to me that on the whole these are the cumulative consequences of not being surrounded by books and learning to love them. It’s a simple truth overlooked amidst today’s mania for testing: if kids experience the joy of reading, they will read more and become better readers. A student bombarded with practice reading comprehension questions or scripted intervention curriculum for hours a day, year after year, learns only that they hate what they are being told is “reading.”

So, fellow educators, how do you get your students to love reading, to enjoy a book so much that they want to find a bookstore and go buy it? How did you ever get to that point?

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24. Teaching difficult novels

greatliterature 243x300 Teaching difficult novelsIdeally, students would stop judging books by their covers and at least try to read what they are given.  Yet more often than not, I am faced with the question, “How do I get students to love the amazing books I love, or at least tolerate the books we are assigned since they’re the only remaining ones in a full class set?”

Here’s how I handle this situation.

Well, first things first.  I make sure students can read the book. Only when my students are able to fluently read the book (meaning the student does not have to look up more than 3 or 4 vocabulary words per page and can relate to you the basic plot after an individual reading) will they be able to take that comprehension into the next level of questioning and analysis. Granted, this happens most often with classics published for adults, but it can happen with trade books for children as well.

If the administration says, “Phooey to your research-based suggestion! Teach this work of literature — it will challenge the students to rise!” Then, I work to create two or three clear, attainable objectives for the book.

My students are not only 8th graders, but all of them come from a different language background and a little under 50% are still English Language Learners.  I am not denying my students’ tenacity, but I also don’t want to set them up for defeat.

So, in order to tackle this beast, I focus on just three goals.  I want students to (1) know and connect with the basic plot, (2) use the story to apply their skills to a specific element of literature, and (3) identify and connect story elements to whichever major themes I have for that book.

I know it feels oversimplified, but with these three goals, I am able to prune the extraneous.  With stronger readers, I can assign deeper prompts connected to my three goals and with weaker readers, I can create cloze exercises [link to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cloze_test], chapter summaries, and other supports to scaffold their mastery of these three goals.  Anything outside these goals, I nix!  Sure, I would love to hit every theme, motif, character motivation, and symbol in these novels — I’m a lit major!  Yet, for my eighth graders, I know that the best way to have lasting impact — to get pieces to stick to their ribs — is not to spread the story shallow, but to give them tools to dig deep.

Some would argue that I am not doing the book justice, and I admit that it is a risk.  Yet I am hoping that by creating manageable objectives for my students now, they will not be turned off by the books that they most likely will reencounter in their future education.

So now tell us, how do all of you handle this situation?

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25. Strategies for Teaching English Language Learners In Elementary and Middle School

Jill_EisenbergJill Eisenberg, our Resident Literacy Expert, began her career teaching English as a Foreign Language to second through sixth graders in Yilan, Taiwan as a Fulbright Fellow. She went on to become a literacy teacher for third grade in San Jose, CA as a Teach for America corps member. She is certified in Project Glad instruction to promote English language acquisition and academic achievement. In her column she offers teaching and literacy tips for educators. 

The Storyteller's Candle

from The Storyteller’s Candle by Lucia Gonzalez

Many of our classrooms include students whose home language is not English. In fact, EngageNY released a report documenting that in 2012-2013 New York State alone taught students who spoke more than 140 languages at home with Spanish making up nearly 65% of all English Language Learners.

Teaching students who are English Language Learners is enormously rewarding and meaningful. However, it at times can feel overwhelming, especially for those who have ever juggled multiple languages at once in the same classroom, supported a student whose language few of their peers or staff spoke, or worked with a student who had little formal school experience beforehand.

The Institute of Education Sciences (IES) released a new practice guide for teaching academic content and literacy to English Learners in elementary and middle school. In this report, IES presents four recommendations to teach and develop English language skills in grades K-8.

Prestwick Café describes why it is critical to give students tools they can apply on their own, like Greek and Latin roots, and points out that even if we teach 10 new words a week all school year long, that is merely 400 vocabulary words—not nearly enough for a student’s journey to become “career and college ready” by high school graduation. While we can not teach every vocabulary word that our students will need or might come across in their reading, we can give them the strategies to build their vocabulary with and without us.

Over the next few weeks, we will focus on the practice guide’s first recommendationchoosing and teaching a set of academic vocabulary words over the course of several days in a variety of instructional activities and what it looks like in action with our books. Using the IES practice guide, we will demonstrate how to choose a text for English Language Learners and significant vocabulary words, to teach selected words, and to incorporate listening, speaking, writing, and reading practice for ELLs in vocabulary instruction.

 

Quinito, Day and Night / Quinito, día y noche

Quinito, Day and Night / Quinito, día y noche

Additional information, activities and advice for educators and Spanish-speaking families of English Language Learners (ELLs) can be found at ¡Colorín Colorado!

Further reading on supporting English Language Learners in the classroom from The Open Book blog:

Using Dual Language And Bilingual Books And Parent-Volunteers To Foster Deep Thinking

Using Dual Language And Bilingual Books In First And Second Grade

Using Dual Language And Bilingual Books In Third And Fourth Grade

 

 


Filed under: Curriculum Corner Tagged: CCSS, common core standards, Educators, ELA common core standards, elementary school, ell, middle school, reading comprehension

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